Governor Tim Kaine, friend to Virginia Native people

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – An avid supporter of Virginia’s tribal people and the Commonwealth of Virginia Governor, Tim Kaine, reached national notoriety in mid-2008 as his name was mentioned as a possible vice Presidential candidate for President-elect Barack Obama.

Kaine, the Native-friendly governor, met with Indian Country Today and reveled in the fact that he was nearly chosen to work from the White House for the Democratic Party.

“It was very interesting and unexpected,” remembers Kaine. “When we started to get mentioned as a VP, I thought ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ It seemed like a long shot, but the list just kept getting shorter and shorter. It was really nice to be mentioned, but Barack made a great choice with [Sen. Joseph] Biden.”

In addition to the attention Kaine received on a national level, he has also garnered statewide recognition from American Indians. Virginia Indians have long regarded Kaine as a fighter for the rights of tribal people. It is shared sentiment in Virginia that Kaine is one of the most pro-active governors on American Indian issues that Virginia has ever had.

Kaine is a firm supporter of the Virginia tribes’ quest in seeking federal recognition. In September, Kaine testified before the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs in support of the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act.

The bill passed by voice vote in May of 2007 in the house and its passing in the Senate looks promising, especially in conjunction with Mark Warner now occupying a Senate seat. Warner is also a firm supporter of Virginia tribes receiving federal recognition.

Kaine’s administration also introduced a funding initiative for the Virginia Indian Heritage Program, which focused on a more accurate approach to the teachings regarding Virginia native people.

Kaine expressed continued support for funding for the Virginia Indian Heritage Program. “I really want to make sure this is not just a one-time thing. I want to make sure it continues; it’s a very important thing to do.”

Kaine also demonstrated interest in another initiative that would lend support to the teaching of tribal culture in Virginia schools.

The measure is sparked from the state of Montana, which has a state law entitled “Indian Education for All” that was passed in 1999 which requires state schools to teach American Indian topics.

When asked specifically if he would ever support such a similar measure in Virginia, his response was “I could definitely see that happening, I’d love to see that. We have started to consider if there is more we can do on the standards of learning and education side to tell the story of Virginia tribes. That is a discussion we have just started, but I look forward to having that conversation with my education officials over the course of the next year.”

Across the board, the Virginia tribes seem extremely pleased with what the Kaine administration has done for their benefit. Kaine asserted that in most cases, he simply felt that he and his administration was just doing what was right.

“We have done some things that I didn’t necessarily think were a big deal, they were just the right thing to do,” Kaine said. “Chief Stephen Adkins (Chickahominy) is the Chief Deputy of the Department of Human Resources. Someone told me there had never been a native Virginian in a position at a deputy agency. I thought ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

Overall, Kaine seems driven to a very important matter - federal recognition of the Virginia Tribes. “I really am very focused on trying to get this federal recognition thing solved. I like the fact that the state has done the recognition. But we really need to get the federal recognition. I really want to get this injustice resolved, and get the feds to finally recognize this. This is very high priority for me; we are really going to push.”

Kaine maintained that the key to great relationships with tribal leaders is having meaningful dialogue.

According to Gene Adkins, Chief of the Eastern Chickahominy, Kaine has done just that. Adkins was more than appreciative of Kaine’s long-standing support and put it simply, “Kaine has been very helpful and he has done a good job.”